Archive for the ‘Philosophies in Nature’ Category

Thoughts on Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the City in a Garden

To be honest, it’s hard to see him as a person rather than a character, since I’ve never personally met him. That said, I acknowledge both his contributions as well as his actions that I don’t really agree with, and while I can’t love him personally like many seem to be able to, I do respect the man quite a bit. He made a lot of hard decisions that may not have been popular, but what he felt was best for the country, and to some extent it worked. From here on out we should learn from both his mistakes and his many contributions, and move on as a nation to greater heights.

Many things have already been said about him, so I’ll mention what I’m grateful for. As a (relatively) young nature-loving person who has had the privilege of growing up in a city while surrounded by greenery, I feel it wouldn’t be right for me not to express appreciation for the man and his incredible foresight, that made Singapore the City in a Garden that it is today. There would not be nature to enjoy, nor a cause for me to champion if not for our Chief Gardener – my life would’ve been quite different I imagine.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 4.12.17 pm

Mr Lee planting a Mempat tree back in June 1963

I won’t go into detail about the many things he did, like cleaning up the Singapore river, starting a tree-planting campaign – much has been said about all that. In fact, this article here is a great read (High 5 for LKY; Singapore’s Chief Gardener. Lee Siew Hua). Just know that the amount of importance he placed on the environment in the face of economic development was unsusual (a good thing), and ultimately what set Singapore apart from other developing nations at the time.

It was clear Mr Lee loved greenery, and though “sceptics today complain that the garden city is a high-maintenance artifice that is lacking in biodiversity”, we know that’s not completely true. Personally, while I’ve had my fair share of grievances and disagreements over things like the loss of green spaces, I have to appreciate the amount of effort put into conservation by such a small nation that is largely economically driven – it’s not the best job, but given our circumstances, it sure is a pretty darn good one. Now, greening measures are much more sensitive – attention is given to the kinds of species being planted, with native species being favoured, and development relatively more sensitive.

“Still, green activists give some credence to the notion that ‘top-down green is better than no green’”. While it is true that a large part of our natural heritage is gone, it is without a doubt that the whole city in a garden image that we aimed for has (intentionally or unintentionally) saved whatever native biodiversity we still have left – and that much we have to be thankful for.

And indeed, it is increasingly important for urban biodiversity to exist, for nature and natural spaces to be easily accessible to city folk. Esteemed conservation biologist Rob Dunn argued in a 2006 paper (thanks Zestin) that “Paradoxically, conservation may increasingly depend on the ability of people in cities to maintain a connection with nature. We term this concept the “pigeon paradox” because, if we are right, under the status quo a great deal of future conservation will rely in part on our interactions with urban ecosystems and the organisms, including non-natives such as feral pigeons (e.g., Columba livia), that call them home.”

“Although most ecosystems and species will not be saved in cities, their conservation may depend on the votes, donations, and future environmental leadership of people in cities; so, in the end, a great deal depends on urban nature. The urban jungle, with its many non-native species, may well be the breeding ground for future environmental action. What that urban jungle looks like, and how people interact with it, deserves more attention.”

It looks like Singapore is quite ideal as a case study in this aspect. Mr Lee may have valued the City in a Garden image in a more aesthetic sense, but as we have more recently come to realise, that decision he made back then has done way more than making the city a prettier place to live in. City folk can enjoy nature literally a stone’s throw from their offices and homes, and small refuges remain for our resilient biodiversity – that will continue to stay around as long as we are willing to safeguard them.

Unfortunately, the first Mempat tree planted by Mr Lee is no more, having been removed but not replanted when Farrer Circus made way for roadworks.

“The ‘pioneering Mempat’ was felled by progress, but the greening it heralded is alive”

Similarly, the pioneering father of our nation may be gone, but we should take it upon ourselves and do well to keep his green dream alive. Thank you for our beautiful City in a Garden, Mr Lee, and may you rest in peace.

Don’t be THAT Guide! (Reflections on Guiding)

SO. I’ve been a bad nature guide recently.

At Macritchie’s Prunus trail, I stepped off the boardwalk in excitement to show the participants a pitcher plant. Thankfully, after the photo was posted, I was promptly reminded by more experienced guides November and Ria as they alerted me to my erroneous ways, for which I apologise. Not all is negative though, this has been a good learning experience!

Screen shot from facebook, original photo by Chloe Tan

Screen shot from facebook, original photo by Chloe Tan. This is what NOT to do!

At the start of the walk we did emphasise to the participants not to stray from the path or boardwalk, though the guides may sometimes do so in order to show them certain things. On hindsight, I realise that this should NOT be the case – the guides should not leave the trail either!

This is for a number of reasons, apart from the most important reason of possibly adversely impacting the very things we are trying to show to others. Partly, it is because while we trust our participants to understand, the trail is public and other trail walkers may see these acts and assume they too can do the same. Mostly, however, the guides should never put themselves in a situation where they seem to be “higher” than the participants, or above any rule or guideline that they themselves have set for the participants.

Quoting Ria Tan’s guide to guiding,
“While guides may say “It’s OK for a guide to do this but you shouldn’t do it”, generally visitors will do as guides DO and not as guides SAY. Just imagine every visitor doing exactly what you are doing the next time they are on the shores alone. You can then have a clear idea of the appropriate behaviour to take when guiding.”
While this was written in the context of a shore walk, it applies to terrestrial – no – actually all nature walks too!

Anyway, this incident has prompted me to reflect on my guiding experiences, and though I have made mistakes there are some useful tips I have learnt as well.

I’m talking to myself here, but if you’re a budding guide you can imagine I’m talking to you too I s’pose.
Things to change

  • STAY ON TRAIL! And practise only responsible behaviour – never do anything you don’t want to see others doing, and the walk is about the flora and fauna, not you (the guide) – care for them comes first.
  • Hold back on the jargon! It may not be intentional, but do get to know layman terms and descriptions. For example, this actual conversation:
    “Oh look, a Tenebrionid (darkling beetle)!”
    “Uh, english please?”
    Sometimes, I find myself stuck in situations where I only know the scientific names, which are more often than not NOT relatable at all. Not trying to boast here, this can be a real problem – in guiding, common names are definitely more useful in introducing an organism or feature, as they are commonly (pun possibly intended) physical descriptions of a trait of that organism. And also in english, which is understood by most people, unlike latin. For example, Lathrecista asiatica may sound nice and fancy, but the only thing people can get from that is “Oh it’s probably found in Asia.”

    The Scarlet Grenadier dragonfly (Lathrecista asiatica), also known as the Asiatic Blood Tail

    The Scarlet Grenadier dragonfly (Lathrecista asiatica), also known as the Asiatic Blood Tail

    Instead, why not try:
    “This is a fine example of a Scarlet Grenadier, which belongs to a group of dragonflies known as the Grenadiers, so named for their red, blue and yellow colouration being similar to the uniforms of the grenadier soldier specialization of the past. This species gets the Scarlet in its name from its striking red abdomen, which also gave rise to its other common name – the Asiatic Blood Tail.”

    This can further go on to interesting tidbits of information such as how many insects, especially the butterflies, have common names reflecting something to do with the military, because the first people who named them were the colonial troops who arrived in the past. It could also possibly lead into how many odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) have very fancy common names such as the Shadowdancer, the Fiery Gem and the Emperor!

    Scientific names can also be introduced though, if they translate to something useful such as how most species of ladybirds have their number of spots reflected in their latin name (E.g. Henosepilachna vigintioctopunctata, vigintioctopunctata = 28-spotted).

  • Do not treat animals as trophies – e.g. taking photos with sea stars, holding them up away from the water. Guilty of having done this before too. Sometimes the novelty of seeing an organism not commonly seen gets to us, and we want to take pictures with it to show friends (fuelled by self-gratification, of course. Refer to the first point!).  This sends the wrong message and encourages disrespectful treatement of the shores – anyway a not so good photo of an animal or plant in its natural state is worth so much more than a good photo of one removed from it.
  • Know your content well, and do not be afraid to admit you may not have all the answers.
    Sometimes, I find myself blurting information, and thinking “Wait, where did I hear this from? Is it credible?”
    If you have an interesting fact that you think you know, make sure to check for accuracy and reliability of sources! Not saying anything is better than spreading false information. If you DO mention information like this, do also clarify that you may not be 100% certain of its validity! You can though, recommend search terms or sources to go to should the participant want more information! Or even better – if you have a smartphone, check for validity on the spot! Which leads to my next point.

Tips I’ve learnt

  • Technology! Use it! With the incredible miracle that is 3/4G, having a smartphone (with a data plan) can be very useful when guiding.
    Hear a bird call but cannot see it, and don’t have a guidebook on hand? Consult Google Images!
    Trying to describe certain behaviour that cannot be observed at the moment? All hail YouTube!
    While guiding yesterday I was trying to describe the appearance and behaviour of a little-known group of insects known as Web Spinners (Embioptera), and thankfully there was sufficient network coverage and we were able to listen to our virtual guest guide David Attenborough talk about these wonderful little creatures with the accompaniment of video clips, all thanks to the power of YouTube.
    In any case, never try to force a hiding animal out, or force an organism to exhibit certain behaviour. Use a guidebook or the internet to help illustrate your point.
  • It helps to know your audience, and gauge their reactions. Test the water at the beginning of the walk! Find that the participants respond better at the mention of food and edibility? Capitalise on that (but be sure to clarify that poaching and hunting is illegal and greatly discouraged)!
    I find that with teens and young adults, linking stuff to popular media such as games or movies is very helpful and keeping their attention. Comparing the burrows of tarantulas to Shelob (from the LOTR franchise) or Aragog’s (from the Harry Potter series) lair, or talking about how certain organisms inspired cartoon or game characters, like how the design of the Pokemon Victreebel was based on real life pitcher plants.

    Slender Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes gracilis) and the Pokemon Victreebel

    Slender Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes gracilis) and the Pokemon Victreebel

  • Use analogy to relate the subject to something more human or to do with everyday life. Sex and relationships are bestsellers. The life cycle of the fig wasp can be described as a tragic love story – “After emerging from the pupa, the mature male’s first act is to mate with a female. The males of most fig wasp species lack wings and are unable to survive outside the fig for a sustained period of time. Once mated, the males begin to dig out of the fig, creating a tunnel through which the females can leave. Once out of the fig, the male wasps quickly die – some never even make it out, living their short lives without ever seeing the light of day.”
    In the sex lives of insects there are also stories about traumatic insemination, but you’re free to read that one on your own heh.

As guides we are not all perfect, and we’re all bound to make mistakes (some more than others ><), but I feel what’s most important is that we learn from our mistakes and from each other!

For more information about how to be a better guide, Ria has many useful pages on WildSingapore that are very helpful:

So remember! The good guides always win (people over)!

Short rant about the image problems of some advocates

Rant!

I get the feeling that people hate on environmentalists and feminists without even knowing why. Or maybe they sincerely feel that environmentalists and feminists are self-righteous uppity people trying to force their ideals down the throats of others. In any case the discussion soon becomes a fight against the advocates themselves instead of about the issue at hand – If MINDEF had quietly enforced the banning of those lines and AWARE had not been mentioned at all, would the ban face as much protest? These darn hate-fuelled bandwagons.

Also I can’t stand the argument that “There are bigger issues to be worried about like poverty and world hunger, so why are you wasting your time fighting for this cause?”.

Okay first, are you doing anything about poverty or world hunger (metaphor for any “bigger issue” in this case)? If you aren’t, hey at least I’m trying to make some positive change in some way, and if you are, that isn’t really the best way to try and recruit people to your cause.

And just because I fight for one cause doesn’t mean I don’t believe in or support others. Similarly just because you feel one cause may be more important than the other, doesn’t mean you should do NOTHING about the other issues. Let’s pour all our caring into one/a few problems! When are we going to give attention to the “smaller” problems then, which are after all, problems that should still be addressed? When the bees die and take a whole bunch of crops and food supply with them? When a loved one gets sexually assaulted? People who make these statements just don’t get it until something directly happens to them or a loved one or theirs. These problems may be “small”, but by choosing not to address them they can and will definitely snowball into huge ones.

To be fair, on the advocates’ side, environmentalists have to be careful not to come across as completely disregarding humanity for the sake of the environment, and feminists have to be careful not to or appear to hate men, or generalise them as all being evil or rapists. This just does a disservice for your cause, even though most dissenters would already have pre-conceived generalisations that all advocates like that. We have an image problem that needs to be worked on.

End of rant.

A Short Love Note to Science

Yesterday for our ES1541 communications module, we were tasked to come up with a two-minute presentation on either ‘ES1541 and me’ or ‘Science and me’. I was a nervous wreck, but it was a good opportunity to consolidate and review just what I love so much about science.

Don’t be mistaken though, I love the arts as well! Below is the script I based the presentation on.

“Good afternoon all,

I will be presenting on the topic ‘Science and me’, and I chose this because I love science, and I believe it loves me too.

First, I have to clarify that I am a terrible science student – I actually struggled to get into this course, being rejected during the first round of applications. In fact I’ve always scored better in the humanities. However, passion and aptitude (if you can call it that) don’t always coincide.

Though my science grades are terrible, I love science for a number of reasons. It exists independent of man, unlike the arts, which are largely social constructs. Being a curious person, the questions and mysteries science presents appeal very much to me. It also makes me feel stupid and ignorant, and I love that.

Science describes existence. It is not something we invented, a system we can use, change and manipulate, but not create. It doesn’t matter if humans exist – Numbers, the laws of physics, the elements and life itself – all these exist independent of man, fundamental truths of the universe. And to a curious person, this presents a great mystery and an awesome sense of wonder.

Now when I say science makes me feel small and stupid, it’s because there are so many things we have not yet found answers for, and so many questions that have not even been considered.

And it’s okay for us to not know, in fact it is EXCITING! That is exactly why we investigate, why we continue in our struggles for answers and solutions and knowledge! How boring this world would be if we knew to answers to everything!

Martin A. Schwartz, the famous cell biologist, refers to this as ‘productive stupidity’ (not academic stupidity, where we don’t know because we don’t study). If we aren’t afraid to make mistakes, we are free to stumble along, learn from errors and experiences and ultimately move forward till we find the answers.

We are raised in an education system that values getting the right answers, but if we are always so afraid of being wrong, making mistakes and asking questions, how can we discover new things, or find new solutions?

Science embraces those who aren’t afraid to be stupid, and in so doing, embraces me :).

In short, even though I struggle with content, I am in love with the spirit of discovery in science, and the many mysteries it presents which I find worthwhile in trying to unravel.

AND it makes me feel stupid, but that’s okay.”

Anyway this is just my opinion on science and why I love it. Putting it out there so I won’t forget!

Monitor Lizard in Yishun – A case study of STOMP’s wildlife articles

This isn’t the first time STOMP is posting pictures of local wildlife with lousy captions, drawing slews of misinformed and biophobic comments, but this recent photo (along with the comments) posted on their facebook page really ticked me off.

Monitor Lizard Yishun

“Monitor lizard’s appearance at Yishun housing block gives resident a scare” – STOMP facebook page

 

Lets take a look at some of the comments!

Lack of exposure to nature – SO BIG! SURE FAKE! ZOO ESCAPEE?

  • All the shocked comments on how huge it is.
  • All the comments likening it to crocodiles
  • All the comments about Godzilla
  • All the comments claiming the photo is fake
  • All the comments asking if it is an escaped pet or from the zoo.
  • Are you sure it’s a lizard and not a dinosaur
  • How did it get there in the first place? Hmmm lost pet probably.. hehehe
  • Not sure if photoshopped or it is someone’s pet
  • Should state “Please come over and claim your lost pet! ” LOLLOL!
  • This is not ‘just a lizard’ this is huge. Will definately scare me!!!!!!
  • Did this lizard come from fukushima nuclear plant?
  • Walao so fake sia
  • I’m “confirm” it from Mandai zoo. Ha………
  • That is soooo awesome! Should call the zoo!
  • That is one huge mother…
  • Fake n disgusting tis person so boring??????
  • Sure is lizard boh? Damn huge sia. I will faint one. Lucky I nvr stay in Yishun.
  • it is fack

 

Misinformed – KOMODO DRAGON! DANGEROUS!

  • Look like Komodo dragon….if it is, then run for your life..
  • Be careful it will kill human don’t play ! play!
  • Komodo dragon …wow!
  • Komodo ! ❤
  • damn! If only it wasnt deadly i would have kept this sexy beast haha!
  • The AVA happily culls unfortunate stray pets. Can we get them to handle this *genuinely* risky case?
  • It’s a crocodile
  • This one komodo dragon not lizard…… .
  • Dun come near….its saliva can cause harm to ya……
  • damn komodo!
  • Thats a water alligator
  • crocodile
  • wtf! tats a small croc!
  • Beware, they eat meat… Including human
  • komodos have super deadly salivas!! was this in ur building???
  • dis is humongous…must have swollen & feeds on domestic animals in da neighbourhood 4 years….
  • KODOMO!
  • hahaha! Kodomo!
  • That creature can be very dangerous. Not wise to keep it as a pet..
  • dangerous animals

 

Biophobic – maybe just lizard-phobic. YUCKS, EEEEEKS!

  • What if it managed to get into the lift n into residents’ house?!?!?! (17 likes)
  • Woah better call the police. Dangerous to children
  • Eeeeeeks!!
  • Guys in arms pls use ur Machete to kill it
  • Omg! All my hair stand liao!
  • if i came out of the lift and saw that ill just press the close door button and lie down in the corner
  • wth is this thing doing here in our local hdb flat??!!! D:
  • I can’t imagine if anyone with kid came out from the lift. If me… i will shock to death.
  • OMG it is seriously looks scary
  • SOOO scary!!!!!!!
  • tat thing come by ma house, I keel it. DAM natche’ you scary!
  •  I live yishun! Oh noooo!!
  • Oh my goodness …. wild boar ok fine monkey okie ya… alamat now is 恐笼leh wa liao
  • Ok ths is reali scary!!!!!
  • Kill it before it lays eggs
  • omg.. i would probably run away screaming if i see this
  • YUCKS !!!!!!!!!!!
  •  Omg! scary as hell! like crocodile!
  • OMG! Luckily I didn’t live at Yishun
  • Yucks.

 

Xenophobic – Somehow, someone always manages to link it to “foreign talent”

  • KNN see lah, now even monitor lizard can swim over and apply HDB. (19 likes)
  • The PRCs will eat it. Don’t worry.
  • Hey…thats a PR about to get citizenship…
  • illegal immigrant
  • Could it be one of our foreign talent changing form oopsie…wrong suits. this HDB lift lah
  • Don’t need to call Spider-Man , just call china man to gobble it up

 

The Hungry Singaporean – WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE WANT TO EAT IT?

  • Monitor Lizard Soup? Yummuliciuos! Lol
  • Nice appetiser with vodka… curry monitor lizard…
  • Where is bear grylls now??he could eat that big thing for us! Lol
  • Fresh meat!
  • prepare your curry pot…
  • Send to vietnam…thailand..china…cambodia..for food.
  • atch it , grill it . Pan-fry it . Then make soup out of it .
  • must get and cook eat very nice u know woww.
  • Catch n cook curry lizard….lolz
  • Wow, can cook how many pots of curry??
  • This One Make Curry Powder Very Nice Lor!
  • Kill it and cook soup
  • Should cook curry with it  J
  • catch and make soup… good for health
  • Holely s**t look at that size ,how Em I to describe in words;Wooooo!! for those who likes exotic fooooood Mmmmmm Scrumptious *

 

Jokers

  •  Door to door campaign …
    To be the next mp…
  • Where’s spiderman!?
  • Which school does it belong to. Better take back the class monitor. Lol
  • Lizard apply for BTO. Got lost in the area. Someone could have help it find it’s dream home.
  • Hahaha! People asking how it got there. What do you mean how it got there my dear? Lizard took cab from zoo, told uncle to take him to Block 810 Yishun Ring Rd. Lol.
  • Relax la. Hired by loan sharks as runner..
  • obese cicakman. HEHEHEHE!

 

It’s the fault of humans! – (these aren’t so bad)

  • All the “leave it alone” comments
  • Due to urbanisation, the lizard needs a home and is sharing a community living with us.
  •  We invaded the monitor lizard’s territory, not the other way around
  • Deforestation @ Yishun
  • Deforestation. We’re obviously destroying their homes L
  • Effects of deforestation. Humans are destroying nature for greed
  • Too much concrete jungle in Singapore, and no more bushes and forests for them to live..no wonder they wander off to look for new homes. So pitiful
  • They lost their homes to urbanization
  • singapore build and build HDB, houses, building. they got no were to go. kinda pity.. lol
  • Im not the biggest fan of reptiles but feel sad for them. Juz looking for food, shelter n trying to survive.
  • Hopefully he is not hurt. We find them scary. They find us more scary cos we destroy their habitat.
  • Not surprised lahhhh this lizard could be spotted where there are big longkangs n some forested area nearby n they could be as big or bigger then this one in the picture!!! Y it wonder in the HDB area you got to ask the GVT!!!! all over this tiny red dot being uncovered n dig all the forested area being disturb n where do this lizards want to go??? I ever saw one at BKE it just come out from the bushes n walk straight to the EXPRESS WAY N BEING run over by a HEAVY VEHICLE so i guess we humans have already DISTURBING THEIR HABBITAT!!!!
  • Not komodo lah…. next time watch more nature documentary. See how human destroy nature. Then we humans blame the animals….. what the f@#$!!
  • What a joke. This show that Singapore is running out of Forest area. Everywhere is HDB flats and Condos. Now need to live in HDB flat like us. Hehehe.
  • I think humans should learn to accept these poor animals more. It must be hungry or no place to go. All the humans’ fault anyway…
  • pore now lacking space of nature reserves land due to urbanization by our govt dats y all these animals appeared at our doorsteps coz they gt no where else to live..

 

The few redeeming ones

  • All the “So cute!”, “COOL” and “Beautiful” comments
  • Call acres!!
  • Poor thing, lose it’s way at concrete jungle. Glad to know that someone know how to call ACRES for assistance.
  • Seriously whats the big deal? For nature and animal lovers its normal to see lizards of this size. That MRT station is near to bottletree water areas so its not suprising to see it there. Only SG “Sua Ku” who has been constantly surrounded by concrete walls /hates to go out to nature will feel so shock.
  • OMG, there is still nature in SG…omg..bliss!!
  • People be like : OMG A MONITOR LIZARD ! … B*TCH PLEASE THE LAND YOU ARE LIVING IS ORIGINALLY HABITAT FOR WILD LIVING THINGS
  • Wonderful creature. Poor guy to get so lost. Not scary at all!
  • Hope it is safely send back to its habitat and not pts. True more and more hdbs and development taking over THIER habitats. Poor creatures have been squeezed out of thier homes. Hope the ava doesnt kill it. Its size might be a grandpa or grandma already let it live longer pls.
  • Its a monitor lizard not a water aligator.
  • This lizard is harmless as long as you don’t antagonize it..kampung days they were roaming everywhere
  • Beautiful creature. Hope the humans don harm it.

 

Ivan jumps into the fray!

“Sheesh, calm down folks. Yes, we do have large monitor lizards (this species is the Malayan water monitor), you would have easily realised this if you ever visited Sungei Buloh. Large monitor lizards can be found near water, and the Malayan water monitor is most often seen in canals, mangroves and other coastal habitats, and along lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. This one clearly must have wandered over from Bottle Tree Park or Lower Seletar Reservoir. And while huge, they are mostly quite harmless unless disturbed – the tail is its primary weapon if it feels threatened when curious humans get too close.

http://www.ecologyasia.com/…/malayan_water_monitor.htm
http://www.wildsingapore.com/…/reptilia/salvator.htm

 

I also weighed in with

“Goodness people the lizard isn’t scary, your comments are! This Malayan water monitor (NOT A KOMODO DRAGON. They are found only in Indonesia and some zoos) is a species native to Singapore, and yes they really do normally grow to that size. If you’ve ever been to Sungei Buloh, these magnificent beasts are everywhere!
They are beautiful creatures, and generally not harmful or aggressive unless disturbed. This one has just lost its way, no need for disgust or panic!”

It has 21 likes so far, good to see some people actually agree with the sentiment!

 

 

STOMP please stop spreading irrational fear. These water monitors are native wildlife that are generally harmless unless provoked. If you want to keep posting stuff like this, at least clarify and inform in the caption instead of just trying to sensationalise.

 

As a social media platform with immense reach, you have the responsibility to provide factual information! Can you imagine how useful STOMP would be if the captions were more accurate? It could actually serve educational purpose.

 

On that, I bemoan the lack of natural history in the fundamental education of Singaporeans. In an increasingly urbanised landscape, the number of run-ins with wild animals is bound to be rather high, isn’t basic knowledge of what wildlife we have and how to/not to deal with them at least somewhat important?

 

Lessons to a Child, from Mother Nature.

Reading this article (Children are key to nature’s future) and some recent experiences with awesome kids in nature made me think back on my childhood. Since it just officially ended (turned 21 a week ago) I thought I’d reflect on how nature and nature-related things affected how I grew up to become who/what I am today, and jot it all down before I forget the awesome memories. Yeah this super long post is more for my own sake, so I never forget.

 

Of course I’m not saying my childhood is more awesome than anyone else’s, not saying that any kid who goes through the same experience will turn out like me, nor am I saying my childhood was super nature-y – in local context, it’s hard to compare with kids from my parent’s generation who caught and played with spiders, played on beaches that perhaps, had not yet been reclaimed. I’m just saying that relative to others my age (the digital natives), nature has perhaps played a larger role in my development, and I feel privileged because of it.

 

Preschool

My relationship with nature started back in kindergarten, when we had a one-day bug-catching activity in Pasir Ris Park. The teachers gave us each a bottle, and gave us free roam over a rather large area in the park, tasking us all to come back with an insect. Having quite the bit of an ego as a kid, I was unwilling to settle for “common” bugs like flies or ants, and when time was almost up, my bottle was still empty. Distraught at my inability to catch anything cool, I sulked under a tree, very much on the verge of crying (I may have cried, but I would never have admitted it :P). Out of nowhere, I felt something large fall onto my head and onto the ground. It was a huge, shiny green beetle! I freaked out for a second, and then nudged the minibeast into my bottle and ran back to the gathering point. There, my beetle and I gained the admiration of my friends and teachers, and (maybe because of the massive feel-good) I left the park with a great interest in creepy crawlies.

Happy kids with our buggy friends. They were released after!

I now know this guy as Anomala albopilosa, the Green Chafer beetle.

 

In K2, one of the teachers who knew of my interest in insects dropped by my place to pass me some caterpillars she found on the plants in the kindergarten, even providing branches and leaves. I watched the caterpillars as they ate and grew fat, eventually pupating and emerging as beautiful Lime butterflies.   There are many experiences from my pre-school days that I have no memory of, but are clear in old photographs. My mom told me of a time when I went to a museum exhibition on bugs that I honestly cannot recall, but was evidenced by an epically embarrassing album.

 

Looking at a giant spider with longing. Accompanied by a very accommodating mom!

Embarrassing photo 1. I think my mom was keeping herself amused in her own way.

Embarrassing photo 2. I was told I could become Spiderman. This wasn’t what I had in mind.

Had to settle for this instead. Spiderman was and is my favourite western superhero, of course.

 

Back then, I also had a bias for underdog-type characters. Which led to me preferring “uncharismatic” animals (especially those whose names started with S, like me) such as spiders, snakes, scorpions and sharks, as compared to my peers who were all about dogs and cats and butterflies and stuff. Bugs, reptiles and amphibians were of particular interest, and I ate field guides for breakfast. I was memorizing common (and some scientific) names like nobody’s business, and till today I still recall some lesser known animals such as the Greater Siren, blind Olms (which I found REALLY fascinating), Glass Lizards and Caecilians . These were of course, North American animals as local field guides weren’t so accessible then, and I had not yet the impression that cool animals could be found locally. I recall staring at the first ladybird I saw for about half an hour cos at that time, I always assumed Singapore did not have ladybirds, among many things.

 

Primary School

But yes I was quite the bookworm, all the way into primary school. In travel photos I’d be carrying a different animal guide in each photo. But by far till this day, the book that has left me the largest impression (and probably the second biggest factor in my entomophilia) is the Big Book of Bugs, published in 2000.

Childhood bible.

Over a couple of years, I memorized nearly every fact, trivia and measurement in the book

Some things – like terrible handwriting – don’t change.

Wonderful illustrations capture the imagination of a child

Informative, yet not too cheem.

This book sparked my interest in marine invertebrates as well.

Truly a wonderful book for a child curious in the way of the invertebrate!

 

In Primary school, I was the kid who ran around with a frog in his hands to scare the girls (and many guys), realising later that it probably needed water and accidentally left it in the canteen washing basin.. until horrified shrieks reminded me to return it to where I found it.

 

When I was in Primary 3, I attended my first beach cleanup, not with the school but with my parents, who were volunteering at an Earth Day cleanup at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Because I was smaller in size, my awesome parents would let me go out further, climbing between mangrove tree roots to get to harder-to-reach pieces of trash. It was a fun, muddy experience I remember till this day.

 

Sometime later I visited Pasir Ris Mangroves, where I witnessed a group of irresponsible teenage boys throw a can at a crab for their amusement. When they moved on, I went down to pick up the can, and realised there was an overwhelming load of trash. After picking up a few things, I gave up, frustrated. Perhaps, that was when cynicism began, and environmental consciousness at the same time.

 

Around the same period in Primary 3, Dr. Francis Seow-Choen, colorectal specialist and local phasmid expert, gave a talk at RI, where my mom works. My mom told him about my love for bugs, and the kind man passed her a pair of leaf insects (a male and a female) to give to me! Needless to say I was thrilled, feeding them guava leaves and watching them everyday after school. I named the male Jade for irony, and the female Leaf out of the lack of creativity. The female is the one that looks like a broad leaf. After a few months, they eventually mated and died (of old age I hope), with Leaf leaving behind a batch of eggs which hatched after many weeks. I no longer had the means to care for them, so I released them in the backyard forest (which I now know wasn’t a good idea).

leaf insect

Leaf Insect nymph, from Pasir Ris Mangroves.

 

In Primary 5, my neighbour and classmate Kok Kiong, called me over one day to show me a bug he had found in his garden (which was more of a grass patch). I recognized it as a beetle grub, and soon I was digging holes in his field to find more. We dug up about 6, and kept them together in a tank with soil that we kept moist constantly. I brought them to school, where they became class pets of sorts. Though it was probably just me and a few others that considered them so. Unfortunately they never reached pupal stage, living for months before they were accidentally killed because we added too much water to the soil :(.

 

One awesome thing about Primary school is the young scientist cards! Cards with different topics, had tasks with numbered stars according to difficulty, and fulfilling the tasks earning the required number of stars and sending the card together with your work to the science centre earned you a young scientist badge! I remember doing all the animal/plant/environment related ones, and completed every task on the young entomologist card even though I already had the required number of stars. Fun times, this was a great idea.

Some of the badges in the more recent, updated program. (Source)

 

Another thing that happened to me in primary school was Pokemon. There was just something about the game that drew me in. Monsters based on real animals and plants, a classification system (by type), a specific classification for bugs (the bug type), an emphasis on diversity and seeing (or catching) them all – all these things resounded with the naturalist in me. My love for nature made me love Pokemon and vice versa, as I kept drawing parallels between the game and the real natural world. I would later find out that the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Taijiri, was inspired by his childhood bug-catching days, when he was known by his friends as Dr. Bug. His wanting to share his love of collecting and exploration inspired the creation of the game. Seems like my love for the game was fated.

My favourite bug Pokemon, based on spiders, centipedes, moths, mantises, beetles and dragonflies.

 

 

Secondary School

Many things happened in Secondary school, including some of the lowest points of my short life thus far, and nature took more of a back seat, though it did creep back into my life now and then.

 

During this period of time, I took an interest in drawing, and actually wanted to go into character design. This period of time when I was drawing would come in handy later in the army, when I discovered nature journaling.

 

It was during this time though, that I started reading up more on environmental issues (taking both bio and geog) and learning more about them. In Sec 4, my geog teacher Mrs Lim Yoke Tong, gave us an assignment to do a write-up on an environmental issue that concerned us. I chose to write about the shark fin trade, and ended up learning a lot about the illegal wildlife trade, especially with regard to Singapore.

I remember doing quite well for this assignment.

 

A certain bio teacher, Mr Law Hock Ling, also had quite the impact on me during this time. He took us on walks at Chek Jawa and Labrador Beach, and gave me my first bug net.

 

On days I ended school earlier, I would take the bus home. The distance between the bus stop to my home is shorter if I cut through the backyard forest (now known as the Pasir Ris Greenbelt), so I almost always walked that path. Over time I grew attached to the place, naming trees and watching the resident Nephila spiders grow. I started bringing a camera out so I could take photos of the bugs, snakes and birds that appear on the short stretch. Some things happened along the way that concerned me, such as the clearing of fringing trees, but at that time I was not sure of what to do, so I stayed silent. I spoke up years later in August last year, more on that later.

The road less taken

Natural Canopy Jigsaw

After some clearing. (Photo by Mark Tan)

Resident Snake

 

During the holidays after graduating, I looked up Mr David Court, who does research on spiders at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and used to be a teacher at RI. I helped out with field and labwork, learning more about the museum at the same time.

Many spiders were ridiculously tiny, and had to be observed under the microscope

The weirdest find was this Pholcid spider that had ridiculously large palps and stalked eyes, with 3 eyes on each stalk.

 

 

JC

In JC, my biophilia returned with a vengeance.

Sometimes distracting me from my studies ><. (Photo by Mark Tan)

 

Early in J1, my brother and I discovered the beautiful Tampines Mountain Biking Trail, and would frequently go there to de-stress. With scenery that looked nothing like Singapore and lots of birdlife, it was a really relaxing place to be.

Rolling Hills (almost)

Hidden gem of a place.

 

Around this time, I also started noticing relatively large balls of poop collecting under one of the trees in my backyard. After searching for a bit, I found that there were Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) caterpillars in the tree! I then tracked their development into pupae, and was lucky enough to be around when they emerged!

Fat Cat

Coccoon, pupa inside!

The one I raised turned out to be an adult male.

The huge female.

Foreplay

Sexytime!

Back to the wild

 

It was also during JC when I joined quite a number of nature related programs and organisations, in school and externally. Shall list a few.

Teamseagrass! Thanks to Jocelyne for introducing me to Teamseagrass, and Ria for organising trips! Volunteers help with seagrass monitoring, and get to experience our great shore life in return :). For an idea of what it’s like, visit this post

Walks of Life, a student initiated nature guiding group in RJ

RJ Ecological Literacy program

Raffles Science Institute (did some work on nerite snails), thanks Dr Abigayle Ng, Dr Adrian Loo and Mr Ngan!

International Coastal Cleanup Singapore! National Day Cleanup 2011

And many other things, including Project Driftnet Singapore, attending Leafmonkey Workshops and more.

 

After A’s, I helped out with the spider workshop at the RMBR open house.

Spider hunting at Kent Ridge with Mr David Court

Spider hunting at Kent Ridge with Mr David Court

With our Nephila antipodiana

With our Nephila antipodiana. Spiders recycle the proteins in their webs by eating them, so removing a spider from its web is very crippling. Solution – take the whole web with it! As we walked back to the museum, we used the web as a mosquito net by waving it in front of us – the thing trapped up to 30 of the buggers!

Excited kids (and parents) at the spider workshop

Excited kids (and parents) at the spider workshop – potential fellow buggers?

 

 

NS

This post pretty much sums up my army experience! Due to the ban on image capturing devices, I was forced to return to drawing, thus starting a nature journal.

One of the pages in the journal. More on the usefulness of sketching in this post.

 

Towards the end of my term, I joined the cause in the Pasir Ris Greenbelt issue – more on that here.

 

 

What Now?

I’m currently awaiting to enter uni, and doing research on ladybirds with the National Biodiversity Centre.

Legit field attire, net upgrade!

Shameless advertising.

 

Anyway, I’m a lucky kid guy who has had many opportunities courtesy of many people, and I am really thankful.

 

Especially to my awesome parents who don’t mind me chasing after my passion, and who support me however they can. It’s really because of them that I received so much exposure.

 

Rounding up this post.

To quote to article in the first sentence, “With global environmental problems increasing, the decreasing number of children in tune with and passionate about the natural world is a scary proposition. Where is the next generation of environmentalists going to come from? Who will be the future stewards of the planet?” Of course, people from our generation have to do something about it, if we want to see these future stewards of the planet.

 

I have met some kids who give me hope. My secondary school geog teacher Mrs Lim, ensures her daughter Isabelle gets enough exposure to nature. At the age of 5, this kid is telling me about how leatherback turtles have razors in their throats to help mince their food, something I should’ve known but I didn’t! When we visited the aquarium in KL, she identified the Piranhas even before we passed the gantry into the gallery, talking about how they were armed with sharp teeth and sharp vision. She also loves bugs and dinosaurs.

Mrs Lim asked me to show them around Macritchie, which I was of course more than happy to do so.

A blessed child in the presence of two nurturing mothers

 

I also recently shared about ladybirds at the Creepy Crawlies Camp at Blue House International School, which has an awesome set up and enthusiastic kids who were a joy to talk to. More about that in the next post!

 

In any case, I agree with the parting words of the aforementioned article – “We as adults, as conservationists, as parents, as concerned humans, all need to help children reconnect with nature. The planet will be a much better place for all of us.” Maybe in introducing kids to nature, we ourselves will be reintroduced with eyes of wonder, and maybe, hope.

Hopping on the BoSSIII reflection bandwagon!

Seems like bandwagon hopping is pretty popular, what with the “Singapore got <insert habitat/ecosystem/species>, meh?” theme going on at BoSSIII (which by the way stands for Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium III which was held yesterday), and so since some of my peers have written about their takeaways from what was undoubtedly a fruitful and insightful session, i feel compelled inclined to do the same! I’m just gonna reflect on a few of the stuff brought up that i found interesting and/or thought-provoking, and well in a non-chronological order.

thoughts i had..

First off, a quote – “When we take students to Bukit Timah, and we ask who’s ever been here, it’s the exchange student who enthusiastically raises his hand” – Sivasothi N.
Sadly, this kinda reflects something about Singaporeans. Maybe because we are born and raised in tropical Singapore, many of us are perhaps used to and therefore unimpressed by our large variety of non-human citizens in the country (and also many PRs), and thus do not appreciate the individual species nor the diversity itself. In contrast people from temperate regions, with nature areas of larger expanse but not necessarily larger diversity, are usually more impressed and thus may better understand the value of what we have. OMG idiom opportunity! “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure“! Case study –  a Belgian scientist comes all the way down here to tell us that “Hey, I was working in your forests and found like 150 new species of long-legged flies, which is like more than triple the number previously recorded. Cool shit. I’ll leave you the specimens.” Also he actually gushes about how awesome our nature is, and i’ll quote him for reals this time.

‘This is really a large number, especially for such a small country. For a biologist, it’s a dream come true.’ 

‘I was so surprised to find so many species here, with different communities living in microhabitats just 500m apart. We are just scratching the surface and the information is already overwhelming.’

‘Singapore is like an open laboratory. All you need is a short drive and you get to see insects in their natural habitats, displaying and feeding.’

Do we really need foreign scientists to tell us what we have and to appreciate it (i have to qualify that not many people would wanna study flies so this may not be a clear representation of our lacking effort)? Clearly there’s a lot more left to learn about or local biodiversity, and hopefully more interest can be generated and more locals can contribute to the local knowledge and literature.

Second point – Are alien species always bad? Can they come in peace? If i’m not wrong this question was raised by Dr. Darren Yeo, clarifying that invasive species may not always be detrimental to our ecosystems, clearing a common assumption that I was, until then, also guilty of. He raised an example of migratory birds feasting on non-native tilapia during their stopovers and some others that i have problems remembering. This is definitely a new insight for me, i suppose observations are necessary to prevent jumping to conclusions. Since quite a number or “natural” habitats in Singapore are artificial or have have been heavily modified, introduced species may not actually be bad for those particular habitats, and if action is taken on these invasives without first checking on their impact and how they fit into the web, there may be unnecessary spending of resources and effort and the place may even be worse off after. Before dealing with an issue, check if it’s an issue in the first place beforehand!

Third point – just saying that i agree very much with what ms Ria Tan said about actively speaking up and expressing ourselves when we feel things are just right. I suppose humans are rather negative in that aspect, we are quick to criticize, but rarely give praise. Using her example, say just one person feels that a nature area is unsatisfactory and should be say paved over or cleared to give way to a mall, and everyone else is fine and prefers the place as it is but do not write in to say how pleased they are with the place, the relevant agencies do not have actual physical support to conserve the place even if they wanted to, which would be a terrible shame. So yes, we should all speak up more and make ourselves heard! Chek Jawa’s conservation was by sheer luck (that it was stumbled upon and so much media hype was created), but we should now be more pro-active and make conservation efforts even before a place is threatened by development.

Okay so a number of us were lamenting the absence of ecology and biodiversity in our secondary and tertiary curriculum/syllabus (even the little bit of evolution taught was about the molecular clock and was more about genes than relationships). As a kid i used to memorise names of organisms (both common and scientific, and till an extent that i earned the nicknames little prof and walking ecyclopedia) simply because i was so fascinated (and almost obssessed) with animals and plants. It also helped that ecology and the food chain etc were covered back in primary school. However upon entering secondary school, I was caught in a flurry of assignments and responsibilities and since the syllabus did not include ecology, I had little time to expand on this interest, and during this time there was a lull in passion. The passion was rekindled in JC, though it was mainly because of research projects and opportunities like enrichment programs provided. However even these had to be done mostly in our own time and it was hard to balance my study workload with this passion, so there were quite a number of others who had to pull out from their projects/programs. I continued doing what i loved, but my results were kinda lousy :/ (no excuse i know ><). Perhaps because of biopolis and an expanding field and increasing opporunities in biotech, genetics and microbio, MOE, together with cambridge i think decided to focus the curriculum more on those subjects, thus giving ecology and biodiversity less air time, which is sad. To illustrate how sad it is, during one of Dr Adrian Loo’s evolution lectures, one of his slides showed a picture of a sea turtle. This conversation was heard:
” wait, sea turtles are mammals right?”
“no! they’re amphibians!”
Well i suppose (hope) most people would know sea turtles are of course, reptiles. In this case I am not lamenting the lack of education in local biodiversity, but an education in biodiversity at all (it has to start somewhere!).. How can some people live till 18 without knowing sea turles are reptiles, or that seashells are living creatures? It’s quite terribly sad.
On the bright side.. it seems ecology will be making a comeback in the secondary curriculum, so that’s definitely a start. There’s hope yet! (:

So it seems the overarching theme of the symposium was “Singapore got <insert habitat/ecosystem/species>, meh?” Well a large proportion of our population either witnessed the rapid development of our nation, or were born and raised with it already largely developed. Thus since most of their lives are spent in urban areas, especially if they have no inclination or reason to head into the outdoors, it would be understandable that what they know of Singapore is what they see in their everyday lives (which are rather hectic so they may not even observe diversity found in urban areas), and thus do not know how rich a diversity we have. This trend may be increasing, withe the new generations born digital natives, an indoor generation.  Interest has to start young, outreach is important! i can’t think of anything else to say aaah.

During his talk, Marcus Chua spoke of numerous discoveries and rediscoveries of mammals and big things, which i am still astounded by. If we could miss all these big things (like the Sambar Deer o.o), imagine how many of the smaller things we could have missed and can be missing out on! There could be so much left to discover, and that gives me hope (:

This is more of a personal thing for me, to find a balance between academia and education. I realised that passionate teachers and educators  are extremely important in planting the seeds of interest in the younger generation, and hopefully infect them with the same amount of passion present in themselves. For people who love biodiversity, they could either go with academia, doing their own research and contributing the the body of science, or they could go on the outreach and convert educate others. I suppose both are important and necessary.

kinda sleepy now, apologise for the incoherence and i’m sure there were lots more discussed during the symposium which i cannot recall at the moment, but for now these are just some things that got me thinking yep. ah i do miss thinking. dang NS.